Bait and switch tactics by real estate agents

houseThe Federal Trade Commission ( states in its Advertising FAQ’s: A Guide for Small Business, “It’s illegal to advertise a product when the company has no intention of selling that item, but instead plans to sell a consumer something else, usually at a higher price…”, when describing “bait and switch” advertising.

The term “bait and switch” is sometimes bandied about by disgruntled consumers, when referring to their encounters with real estate agents. Although the scenarios depicted by the annoyed consumers require legal scrutiny to determine if the situations meet the definition of bait and switch as described by the FTC, it makes you wonder about what some agents are doing and/or saying to get business.

Bait and switch complaints are often about homes that are advertised for rent or sale, but are found to be off market after calling agent. These listings are often the result of listing syndication gone awry; or worse, “scraped” listing information (Internet scraping is when website data is taken and collected, often without authorization) reposted by an unauthorized website to attract traffic away from the website of origin.

Scraped listing information can float around cyberspace for months or years after a home has sold. Although there has always been an element of out of date listing information found on the internet; sham listings and unauthorized postings of listings used to lure consumers, are frequently cited by both consumers and agents because the information is often misleading or incorrect. And although some responsibility may be placed on the workings of the internet; some real estate agents may be to blame for using questionable advertising practices to get their phone ringing to attract home buyers. Such practices include: advertising other agents’ listings as their own, or advertising homes that are off the market.

The MLS syndicates and distributes home listing information across the internet to authorized websites, and updates the listings to maintain accuracy and integrity of the MLS. Although the internet seemed to coalesce for a brief time to present reliable home listings and other real estate information, while deterring scammers and rogue websites; the recent surge in home sales and other economics may be responsible for a return to a “wild west” atmosphere in cyberspace. This year’s reshuffling of MLS data access to major real estate portals, forcing some sites to find missing information elsewhere, is likely to have added some confusion.

Home buyers aren’t the only ones complaining; as some home sellers have similar complaints, saying they’ve been misled. Sometimes the complaint is that their agent “promised” a high sale price, only to be coerced to reduce the price at a later time; or the agent over-promised services that were never delivered.

It must be said that many buyer and seller complaints stem from their dissatisfaction, rather than an actual breach of ethics; and yet many legitimate ethical breaches go unreported. Regardless, it is unfortunate that some real estate agents resort to questionable sales tactics to attract buyers and sellers; and either learn the tactics from real estate trainers, and/or develop them on their own and share with other agents. Even though a Realtors® Code of Ethics exists to guide professional behavior and business practices, some have a “catch me if you can” attitude.

Due diligence, on your part, can make your home buying or selling experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.

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By Dan Krell

Copyright © 2015

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Due diligence when buying a home

Due Diligence
Trust and Verify

If you’re a home buyer who’s ready to jump into the housing market this spring, you’ve probably begun searching to see what’s on the market. You may have already met a real estate agent or two; and if you’ve haven’t yet talked with a mortgage lender for a prequalification, it’s probably high on your priority list. Exercise due diligence throughout the home buying process.

Before you know it, you’ve selected an agent, mortgage lender, and title attorney to assist you. Then you find yourself searching for homes. Guess what? You’re well into in the process of buying a home! But before you put the buying process on cruise control, how much trust should you put into the professionals helping you?

Exercise your due diligence when buying a home.

It’s not to say that real estate agents, loan officers, home inspectors, or anyone else assisting your home purchase are not qualified.  But then again, some professionals are better than others. Buying a home is probably one of the biggest purchases you’ll make during your life. The saying “trust but verify” should be your mantra throughout the home buying process to ensure you exercise due diligence.

Have you verified the credentials of those you’ve hired?

Believe it or not, there are some who are doing business without the authorization of the corresponding licensing agency. And yet, some reasons given for not having a license may sound innocuous, such as forgetting about a license renewal deadline; other reasons may not seem as innocent (for example, licensed professionals from neighboring jurisdictions, DC or VA, attempt to do business locally where they are not licensed).

Professional licensing is a regulatory safeguard that provides consumers a pool of professionals that meet or exceed a minimum professional competency. Agencies such as the Maryland Real Estate Commission; Maryland Home Improvement Commission; Maryland Commission of Real Estate Appraisers, Appraisal Management Companies, and Home Inspectors; Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation; and the Maryland Insurance Administration offers an internet portal to verify a licensee’s status, check for disciplinary actions, and also explains how to file a complaint.

Although the MLS strives for accuracy in home listings, there are inaccuracies. The MLS provides guidelines and standards for home listing data.  However, exactness and truthfulness can vary because data input is performed by many agents and/or their staff. a disclaimer used by our local MLS prompts you to verify MLS listing information,

“Information is believed to be accurate, but should not be relied upon without verification. Accuracy of square footage, lot size, schools and other information is not guaranteed…”

Verify the schools are accurate.

You can verify schools by checking with the local school board. Our local school board has an online tool to check schools assigned to any county address. The tool is located here: Montgomery County Public Schools “School Assignment Tool” (

Verify zoning, development and other information

You can verify zoning or development questions with your locality. Montgomery County allows you to check information online via Montgomery County Planning Department (

Verify permits.

Sure the deck is beautiful and the basement is fully finished.  But how do you know that they were built to meet county code?  Maybe the home seller went with the lowest priced contractor who cut corners and did not pull a permit. Or worse, the seller did it themself to save paying a licensed contractor. Make sure any improvements and recent repairs have had the proper permitting! The permitting process certifies that repairs/renovations comply with building and zoning codes. Permitting ensures that houses are safe, structurally sound, and meet health standards. Permits can be checked by contacting your locality.  Montgomery County allows you to check most building permits online via Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services ( “eServices” data search portal.

Most home buyers are familiar with basics of the home buying process. However, “trust and verify” can help identify and reduce hidden and obscure risks. Exercising your due diligence can make your home buying experience increasingly trouble free and more enjoyable.

By Dan Krell
© 2015

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Narcissistic real estate agents?

narcissistic real estate agents
When real estate agents are narcissistic

A common criticism of real estate agents is that they are manipulative and often focused on their own needs rather the home buyer or seller. Could it be that real estate agents are narcissists? Samuel Lopez De Victoria, Ph.D. describes a narcissist in the World of Psychology blog ( as someone who is preoccupied with “self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others.”  How can you tell when you are dealing with narcissistic real estate agents?

In an industry that relies on self promotion, it’s not as easy as you might think to spot narcissistic real estate agents.  They initially don’t often come across as manipulative or self centered. Dr. Lopez De Victoria describes. Extreme narcissists as being able to portray themselves in many ways to attract others to get what they want.  They will seem likeable  and be the “nice person.” They may often seem to be the “proper diplomatic” person.  They often appear to care about you, but it is not authentic empathy.  And of course, they are often a charming person.

Dr. Lopez De Victoria says that having some amount of narcissism is normal and even healthy. So even though most agents are not extreme narcissists, it does not address the remorse expressed by some about the agents they chose. Even though industry experts recommend interviewing several agents before buying or listing a home, the majority of home buyers and sellers do not. According to the National Association of Realtors® 2014 Highlights of the Profile of Buyers and Sellers (realtor.rog), 70% of home sellers and about 66% of home buyers only contacted one agent before listing or buying a home. Regardless of the remorse expressed by home buyers and sellers about their agent, maybe they would have chosen to work with other agents if given the chance.

Although interviewing several agents before you buy or sell a home won’t eliminate all remorse over your choice of agent, it can certainly increase the probability of your satisfaction. If you choose to interview several agents, you might consider having a conversation about their experience, knowledge, and expertise. Additionally, knowledge about the local neighborhood market and surrounding neighborhoods is extremely important because market trends are hyper-local. You should also talk about the agent’s specialized experience, if your buying or selling situation is unique.

You should also ask about the agent’s limitations. This is an area where some agents get themselves into trouble is by not knowing, or are unwilling to disclose their limitations to potential buyers or sellers. By discussing the agent’s limitations, you can understand what the agent can and cannot do as well as know when the agent will refer you to other professionals for advice; this can also frame your expectations.

To get some insight into the agent’s way of thinking and service, you might consider asking atypical questions too! Surely an agent is more than happy to talk about their accomplishments, number of sales, and even name drop a past client or two; but what about the listings that didn’t sell? Have they been fired by a client?

The ratio of expired to sold listings can be telling; is the agent focused on servicing your listing or is it a “numbers game” for them? If an agent is open to sharing those figures, ask for reasons why the listings didn’t sell; was it about price or the marketing? If an agent has a history of being fired, it could be a possible indication of issues with the quality of service, including over-promising and not meeting expectations.

Original published at

© Dan Krell

Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

HUD is Kicking Back

When you bought your home recently did your Realtor or lender tell you that you had to use a specific lender or title company? Did the seller require you to use the mortgage and title companies of their choosing? If so, you may have been denied your right to choose the lender and title company to conduct the settlement for your home purchase just for a kickback.

To help home buyers become educated consumers about settlement services a law was passed in 1974 called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act also known as RESPA. RESPA has many caveats associated with it however there are several common provisions associated with a home buyer’s choice of settlement companies and lenders.

First, RESPA requires that home buyers receive disclosures that disclose costs related to settlement, as well as outlining lender servicing and escrow account procedures, and disclosing relationships between settlement professionals and other real estate professionals. This protects the home buyer by allowing them to know what they are to expect with regard to fees, affiliated business relationships, etc.

Second, RESPA is widely known for prohibiting giving or receiving anything of value, including money, for settlement service referrals, also known as kickbacks. RESPA also prohibits fee splitting and receiving compensation for services that were not provided. This is done because kick backs typically increase fees charged to the home buyer, sometimes excessively, so as to “take care” of the referring party.

Third, RESPA prohibits a home seller from requiring a home buyer to use a specific title company or lender.

Penalties for violating RESPA are stiff. Violations of RESPA include civil and criminal penalties. The penalties vary depending on the infraction. For example, if someone is found guilty in criminal court of giving or receiving a kickback, they may be subject to a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. The civil penalty for kickbacks is the repayment of three times the fee in question.

Although kickbacks are not as common today as they were in years past, they still exist. In response, the U. S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) has taken a firm stance on kickbacks in the last several years. There have been many out of court settlements in the last few years, and there may be some serious criminal charges pending as investigations continue.

It is not uncommon for home buyers, especially first time home buyers, to ask their Realtor for lender and title company recommendations. After all, most people do not buy homes very often. As a practice, many Realtors provide a list of several names of lenders or title companies for the home buyer to interview. The list is usually comprised of professionals with whom the Realtor has worked with in the past and (hopefully) had a good experience. As a home buyer, you can always start with whomever you bank with. It makes sense that since you have already developed a banking relationship with your bank, why not start there?

If you find yourself in the situation where you are “forced” to use a specific lender or title company, or you think this may have occurred in the past, you can contact HUD ( or contact the state attorney general’s office of consumer protection for additional information.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2006